Study Violent Offenders Instead of Executing Them

Another Ohio death-row inmate has “volunteered” to be executed. He was previously diagnosed as “mentally ill and dangerous to himself” and as having “anti-social personality disorder.”

Many medical researchers would not support execution as the best way to deal with him. They say society is far more likely to lower its violence rates by studying violent offenders instead of killing them.

Strong evidence indicates that brain diseases contribute to some violent acts and sexual offenses. The diseases involve defective functioning of the brain’s chemistry. By learning the causes of these conditions, society can take steps to prevent and cure them.

The steps could include creating social environments that are less conducive to emergence of the diseases. And medications could be developed to correct chemical imbalances in the brain.

In fact, researchers studying antisocial behavior have identified both environmental and biological causes. Environmental factors include pathological relationships during the formative years, childhood physical brutality, and sexual abuse. Biological factors can involve hereditary predisposition and hormonal functioning.

Some specific conditions that have been implicated in causing violence are brain tumors and lesions, head injuries, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorders, dual and multiple personality disorders, manic-depressive disorders, seizures involving altered states of consciousness, and possible submicroscopic triggers too subtle to be detected by present brain-scanning techniques.

In 1999 Ohio impeded medical science’s ability to learn the causes of violent acts when it executed the mentally ill Wilford Berry. Among Berry’s many problems were schizophrenia, delusions, a horribly abusive childhood in which he was raped and beaten, denial of medical treatment along with the trauma of being raped in the Texas prison system, and a long history of suicidal tendencies that eventually led to his “volunteering” to be executed.

The execution of this very sick man – like so many other executions – was not only a pathetic and shameful spectacle. Such acts also prevent medical science from researching the causes of crime and discovering methods of preventing antisocial behavior.

As a result of scientific progress being blocked in that manner, violent criminals will continue to be produced and wreak havoc in society.

State officials deserve much of the blame for this outcome. They are responsible for continuing the barbaric, shortsighted, unjust, and counterproductive practice of executing criminals.

Dr. John Money, a leading expert on sexual violence, explains medical science’s problem with their position in his book Unspeakable Monsters in All Our Lives.

He writes: “The folly of trying to eradicate disease by killing those who have it is that society deprives itself and its biomedical scientists of the chance to discover the cause of that disease. . . . Capital punishment has not prevented the reemergence in each new generation of serial rape and serial lust murder as . . . public health problems. Punishment is an ineffectual substitute for . . . research into cause, effect, and prevention.”

How many more generations – and victims of violent crimes – will it take for public officials to learn that lesson?